Home United’s fringe players step up to the plate to ensure that their unbeaten record against the league’s table–toppers remains intact.
Prior to the match, DPMM has failed to beat the Protectors in each of the past three matches, with the last ending in a victory for the Protectors courtesy of an early goal from top-scorer Frederic Mendy. With the 24-year-old marksman suspended, along with key players Shi Jia Yi, Shotaro Ihata and Franlin Anzite, it represents the perfect opportunity for the table-toppers from Bandar Seri Begaawan to record a first victory over their bogey team.
However, if fans who had thronged to Yishun Stadium expected a match befitting of its bill as the battle of the titans, they would have been sorely disappointed as the first quarter of the game was characterized by an uncharacteristically cautious approach from both teams. This was perhaps understandable considering the knock-out format of cup competitions and the slippery pitch at Yishun Stadium which ensured that players fell on all fours as often as passes were misplaced.
It took 23 minutes before the first chance was created as forward Adi Said suddenly found himself in acres of space and spotted Lionel Lewis well off his line. He then unleashed a right-footed shot with his outside foot which seemed destined for the back of net only to be denied by a sprawling Lionel Lewis who used every inch of his towering frame to tip the ball around the post.
Three minutes later, it was Adi Said’s elder brother and club’s top goal scorer to get in the act. Shahrazen Said’s chest-down from a left-wing cross by Basiru Osman managed to beat Jeremy Chiang and just when he seemed odds-on to add to his goals tally for the season, his right foot gave way on the slippery pitch and his left-footed shot trickled into the arms of a grateful Lionel Lewis.
With DPMM starting to gain a foothold on the match and seemingly on the ascendancy, it was Home United who got ahead against the run of play. A quick break saw Qiu Li run through the heart of an unguarded DPMM midfield and after skipping past the challenges of three DPMM players, he unselfishly released the ball to a scampering John Wilkinson who unerringly smashed a right footed shot past the onrushing DPMM custodian.
With a goal deficit to overcome, it was clear what the message to his players was during the interval from DPMM’s fiery head coach, Vjeran Simunic. And DPMM indeed came out of the dressing room with renewed vigour and their sustained pressure on the Protectors’ defence helped to spark a moment of madness from Masrezwan Masturi.
Reminiscent of Joey Barton’s foolish misdemeanour last Sunday, the veteran forward elbowed Shahrazen Said after they had tangled together. Left with little choice, referee Sukhbir Singh flashed the red card to ensure that the Protectors faced a nervous thirty five minutes of regulation time left.
With a man advantage, one would expect the Bruneians to press on and intensify their pressure but instead, the next opportunity fell to Home United in the 60th minute as Rosman Sulaiman received the ball on the right wing before bamboozling past two static DPMM defenders. However, he showed why he is a defender as he blasted his shot high into the Yishun night sky with only the goalkeeper to beat.
Undeterred, Home United continued to create the better chances and in the 80th minute, John Wilkinson’s free-kick from distance had the keeper well and truly beaten. Fortunately for Wardun Yussof, the goalpost came to his rescue as the ball hit the upright and bounced away to safety with no player in red on hand to tap home the rebound.
With the clock ticking down and with DPMM piling men forward, Indra Sahdan Daud was brought on to replace the fast-tiring Rosman Sulaiman and he nearly sealed the game in injury time as a counter-attack saw the deceptively quick Qiu Li square the ball to him. After intelligently wrong-footing his marker to take him out of the equation, all he needed to do was to place the ball beyond Wardan Yussof but the goalkeeper was able to stretch and palm the ball around the post for a corner kick.
Indra Sahdan’s miss ensured a nervous finale and his miss almost proved to be costly as DPMM wasted two great opportunities in quick succession. Firstly, Lionel Lewis somehow got a hand to Ivan Jerkovic’s point blank acrobatic bicycle kick which earned him great applause.
And in the last kick of the game, Shahrazen Said found himself totally unmarked at the back post but unfortunately for him and DPMM, he failed to replicate his league exploits as his header from Tales Dos Santos delicious cross failed to even hit the target with the goal at his mercy.
Coach Simunic reacted to the miss by smashing his water bottle in disgust and which earned him a lengthy lecture from the fourth official. However, when one considers that Home United was missing four key players through suspension and that DPMM had a man advantage for more than a third of the match, one can easily fathom why the fiery Croat was rightly angry.